Discussing Salary Expectations | Main Region

How to answer, “What are your salary expectations?” in a job interview

An employer interviewing a potential candidate and discussing salary expectations

“What are your salary expectations?” is a simple enough question, but no matter how well you prepare for a job interview, many find the salary expectations question daunting.

Often, this is because they are uncertain how much money to ask for. Selling yourself short could be interpreted as a sign that you doubt your abilities or lack the confidence to ask for what you’re worth. However, pitching too high could price you out of contention.

People who dread this question often offer a vague answer. For example, “I’m negotiable.” However, failing to provide a realistic figure only leads to dissatisfaction when the formal offer comes through.

Ultimately, you’re going to be asked this question, whether before, during or after the job interview. It’s a key piece of information for both a recruiter and hiring manager, so be prepared to answer this question.

Why employers ask about your salary expectations

Most advertised jobs do not list a salary range. Rather than lock themselves into an exact figure, employers prefer to firstly gain a complete picture of the value of a particular candidate. They will then make a salary offer based on the unique experience and expertise of their preferred candidate.

As part of this process, they need to gain an understanding of your salary expectations. So, they ask the money question. Based on your answer, skills and experience, as well as their budget and typical salaries for the role, they’ll make an offer, then negotiate from there.

Employers also ask this question if they are unsure if you’re at the right level for the job. Low or high expectations can indicate that you are either under- or over-qualified for the role. 

Tips for confidently discussing salary expectations

When an employer asks about your salary expectations, your answer will ultimately form the beginning of the salary negotiation process. So, it’s important to prepare and confidently ask for the salary you deserve. 

1. Research typical salaries 

Your first step is to determine your ideal salary before meeting with a recruiter or hiring manager. If you are unsure how to put a numerical figure on your skills and experience, there are several factors to consider. Think about your desired job title, location, industry and organisational size. Consider your current salary. Then use the Hays Salary Checker to ensure your salary expectations are in line with current market rates.

Remember, salaries can vary by location, so consult a guide with a geographical break-down of salaries, such as our Hays Salary Guide. Try also to remain impartial when you compare your skills and level of experience with the data presented in a guide. Look at the salary range to give you an idea of the minimum and maximum you could expect to receive for this role.

2. Consider the complete compensation package

Next, consider how flexible you are willing to be. In today’s world of work, a competitive salary offering is just one part of the value exchange between employer and employee.

Employees are often motivated by more than money alone. Consider whether the organisation offers a flexible work environment, learning, a purpose that aligns with your own and positive working relationships that would allow you to succeed and thrive.

Also consider what benefits are more, or just as, important to you as the dollar figure. For example, additional annual leave, continuous flexible working, bonus schemes, upskilling, mental and physical health and wellbeing programs or career progression.

Only you know where you are on your career journey, and taking into consideration the full range of value that any one role might offer, whether that’s an opportunity to earn more money, or learn more skills, will help you decide what’s right for you.

3. Verify the figure with a recruiter

Then, arrange a meeting with a recruiter who can provide career advice and put you forward for suitable roles. In your meeting, your recruiter will ask about your salary expectations. When they do, it’s best to be completely open and honest. 

Even though you may have done your own research, your recruiter knows the average salary for your role and level of experience, and what employers are offering in the current market. You may be asking for too little or too much – and it’s best you find this out sooner rather than later to ensure your expectations are realistic without harming your job search prospects.

4. Prepare and practice your answer

When it comes time to attend a job interview, the hiring manager/s will want to gain an understanding of your salary expectations. But very rarely will they discuss this directly with you in the first interview. 

Instead, these conversations typically happen via your recruiter or, if you are not working with a recruiter, at the end of the first interview, during the second, or in a separate telephone call. 

Therefore, be prepared to discuss your salary expectations whenever the topic is raised. The good news is that if an employer is asking you this question, either in an interview or afterwards, you are one of most probably one of their preferred candidates. 

So, be ready to discuss your case with conviction. To help communicate confidence in your answer, sit up straight, make eye contact and talk clearly.

For instance, don’t answer with, “I feel like I want $X amount ideally, just because of Y and Z. What do you think?” Instead, provide a clear and positive answer, such as, “Based on my research of current typical salaries for this role, along with my expertise, I am looking for $X as the starting salary. I believe this is a competitive figure given the responsibilities of the job”.

It's also perfectly acceptable to provide a salary range when you answer this question. However, some people find that providing a salary range is still too vague for them and leads to a low first offer, which can weight salary negotiations. If you do elect to provide a salary range, try to make your salary expectation clear with as small a range as possible.

5. Negotiate 

If the interviewer decides to make you an offer, they will do so via your recruiter. Typically, you’ll receive a verbal offer first; when you hear this offer, do not accept it if you are not happy with it. Instead, talk to your recruiter about the offer and ask if there is room to negotiate. Your recruiter will then negotiate on your behalf without jeopardising the offer, so make sure you fully utilise their service.

As mentioned earlier, you could also give your recruiter some bargaining chips in case your salary expectations can’t be met. For example, perhaps you would consider training, additional annual leave or development opportunities?

If you are not working with a recruiter, always keep your desired target salary firmly in mind during the negotiations. Give serious thought to what you consider to be your lowest acceptable salary and prepare justifications for this should negotiations become difficult.

Remember, there is normally a margin for negotiation. Keep the discussions professional and ask about other benefits to bridge the divide if salary expectations are not aligned.

Master this tricky interview question today

Some interview questions are trickier than others. Being clear on when and how to talk salary is essential to your career, whether this is when you are applying for a role with a new company or asking for a pay rise in your current one. Coming to an honest and reasonable assessment of what you’re worth and articulating it well takes practice, but you will soon find yourself able to confidently and assertively ask for what you deserve both now, and throughout your future career journey.

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